VIP - VideoChannel Interview Project

Stellbaum, Gabriele

Gabriele Stellbaum
German videomaker

The Refugee Film Collection
artvideoKOELN Collection

Interview: 10 questions


1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background.

I studied sculpture at the Art Academies in Hamburg and Düsseldorf with Prof. Ulrich Rueckriem. At the same time I was for several years the assistant of Joerg Immendorff. In the Nineties I moved to New York City and lived there about 10 years and showed with Florence Lynch Gallery. I relocated to Berlin Germany in 2003.

2. When, how and why did you start filming?

After moving to New York in the nineties I realized that I would not proceed with my sculptural installations that were large and heavy. Exhibiting in the US and in Europe I started to work with large scale panoramic slide projections and sound, in the need for more „transportable work“. These projections weren’t easy to integrate and service at exhibitions and in 1999 I started to produce video works. At this time large-scale video projections became very fashionable and it seemed that every video work was blown up for projection often with bad results. In resonance I explicitly developed my video works “purely for monitor” as a concept until 2007. Today my films are screened in exhibitions, festivals and sometimes at cinemas.

Until today the sculptural aspect still plays a crucial role in my work and is reflected in my mise-en-scène and my approach for architecture and space.

3. What kinds of topics have your films?

In my poetic video pieces I create narratives, fragmented and constructed by emotional, mental and sociopolitical histories. Starting from the trajectories of social control, morality, personal and public identities, precarity, neuroscience, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, the work touches on my concern of sociopolitical responsibilities in the past and the future of an unpredictable changing political landscape. Based on the theories of morality I am very interested in psychology and the established rules for shaping and controlling life to the ultimate extreme. Over time, the mere individual with its burden, desires and inscription in moral framework, emerges from the narrative, revealing its traits and contiguity in a present past and future. My films’ diction implements the ambiguity of what we see – a reality pervaded by an impending danger that designates these poetic tales a notion of inert resistance.

4. Concerning your included video: please tell me more about the aims and the contents.

“ill-timed moments” is one of my films without any dialogue. It captures a short episode in the life of a middle aged woman brewing coffee in her tiny kitchen. A small but unexpected incident leads to an intense liberating reaction. One by one she is destroying her old tableware. With an enormous focus she is taking herself out on the broken dishes, stamping them to small pieces with her feet. Her agitated clean-up action ends with smashing her head into the kitchen cupboards. The melodic sounds of her performance play a crucial role in this video.

The film was created on the notion of a slight mishap gone wrong. An ill-timed moment where somebody suddenly snaps. A metaphor for coming to terms and breaking with the old – a painful process for a maybe new beginning.

5. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc.?

My films simply derive from images in my mind. I am contemplating about haunting images and gesture something intense and bizarre that can carry a thought or emotion like a metaphor. Before I have envisioned the whole script – I sort of know already the atmosphere the film will create. Over the years I have developed my own esthetic language as a brand. I never follow a storyboard and as a video artist I have the liberty of not bending to the rules of regular cinematic storytelling. In persisting reciprocity of indication and withdrawal, my sceneries countervail ambiguity as a prevalent but never absolute strategy. The gesture of postponing the clarification on the circumstances defining the plots, opens up the interstitial space for thinking as latency mechanism and structural concept. My soundscapes play a very important role as they accentuate and indicate a hidden parallel scenery to my rather minimally but precisely calculated mise-en-scenes. These visual dispositions provide innate narrations juxtaposed by passive protagonists. The performers exert minuscule and unspectacular actions that issue into political ones, despite of any awareness or intention of doing something of obvious importance. The sceneries are built upon an intricate layering of threats, a matryoshkaesque hinting towards what lies in the unobtainable space between the stitches of the stories fabric.

6. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.

I have worked with various cameras like for instance the Sony A7SII, Sony PXW-X70, Sony HDR-AX2000E, Sony PMW EX1/EX3 and the Canon Mark EOS 5D I-IV. I prefer the image quality of the Canon MK II – IV and the Sony A7SII in comparison to the other HD cameras I experienced. For sound recording on the set I use the Zoom 6 and a beautiful old Sony recorder. I am an autodidact in terms of camera techniques but have challenged myself in the use of the fast developing cameras, formats and editing programs. For the postproduction I use Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro plus various sound programs.

The opportunities of the continuously developing digital cameras allow me to think different as an artist about the possibilities of production. The Sony A7SII for instance basically sees in the dark without producing a too noisy image. Green screen studios can be rented for small fees. With a very small budget and smart thinking a lot can be done.

Still working with analog video in the nineties I already used the digital challenge of editing and creating with Premiere and Final Cut. Especially the composition tools for perspective and super-imposition allowed me to create and expand spaces and choreographies in my artistic approach.

As a video artist I use editing and other postproductions programs quite differently to professional cutters or design artists. Sometimes I work with Green Screen as a concept and sometimes a scene can only be completed via digital construction. I also compose and collage sound on the computer for my films. The film footage is very important for the creation of my films but the digital postproduction enables me to impose my full artistic strategy. The speed of the new editing programs and computers enable me as an artist to develop a playful and sometimes risk taking editing strategy that allows changes and tryouts in no time. But the basic idea for a film, a script, a scene is still the foremost important aspect of making art & moving images!

7. How do you finance your films?

I have not found real funding for experimental artistic video and I am not willing to bend to the rule of regular storytelling to get some. Therefore I work on the smallest possible budget doing everything myself like script, camera, acting, postproduction, music composition etc.

I have been able to sell some of my work to video collections but the market is much smaller than for photography, painting or sculpture. I use my artistic abilities to work for other art productions/artists and finance my films with this. I do call myself therefore an “honest artist”.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team?
If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

I mostly work individually but get occasionally support from friends and family or pay an assistant. I have a very specific esthetic concept for my mise-en-scène and have difficulties to leave the camera to another operator. I loved to work with laymen actors with whom I develop the scenes and build a strong dialog before recording. It is always amazing how these laymen actors challenged their roles. Most recently I have started to collaborate with a theater team and individual actors. It is a complete different experience and yes finding the right people to work with has been a fantastic experience. My daughter has become my co-scripter and one can say it still stays in the family. After working alone for such a long time I have opened myself to new ways of collaboration since 2016. Working in a team can create a complete different dynamic. It is a give and take and experience of trust. Working alone allows me an immediate approach of filming and less organization and dependency on others and circumstances. It also creates a privacy for trial and error that I find extremely creative. I love both ways of working. I would rather say that I prefer to work alone on specific filmic subjects and scenes and prefer to work with a team on subjects that thrive with the dynamic and input of others.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?

I wouldn’t call on any films or film directors as my favourites but I do love movies. I can watch any kind of film (except terrible violence or action) and have a great inspiration of some kind. It can be the camera work, a setting, a dialogue, the music, the acting or the concept that influences me. I guess I hardly watch a film without analyzing it of some sort. Otherwise I think of myself as a walking camera. I scan buildings, architecture in general, landscapes, car or train rides as well as people – like I would see them through a camera. I might be something like a distant look analyzing what could be rather interesting as a filmic scenario.
On the other hand I do develop images in my mind while reading books. The images often trigger the idea for a film.
I would say that some films of other video artists have left some strong memories or influences on me.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?

I do believe in the concept of development. I never want to do the same and try to expand my way of working with every film I do. Sometimes it is risky and one might fail.
I have been invited to an important sound festival for contemporary music for a new film production. It is very exciting that my soundscapes have brought me there. And I definitely will approach the matter and concept of sound even stronger than I already do. Otherwise I dream of the film I would shoot without being completely stressed out. The film where there is no technical failure or other unexpected difficulties.
The film I do with passion in peace and quiet. Nevertheless I do wish my films would find a larger audience and I do find the idea of internet based video platforms encouraging.

Can works of yours be reviewed online besides on the platforms of The New Museum of Networked Art?